Monday, October 3, 2016

Monday leftovers 

It has been a long time coming, but fans are now beginning to see glimpses of a Browns offense that can provide trouble for opposing defenses sooner rather than later.

Even with a raw rookie at quarterback, the Cleveland offense this season has shown distinct improvement over any the fans have witnessed in the last several seasons. And it’s due in large part to coach Hue Jackson.

Gone, it seems, are the days when three-and-outs were commonplace whenever the Browns owned the ball. This attack seems to move the ball with more ease than any Cleveland offense in many, many seasons.

Jackson, with the few exceptions during which he tends to get too cute and calls for his men to do something out of the ordinary, has transformed this unit into a respectable crew that keeps the defense fairly well rested on the bench.

After a slow start, during which the possessions were brief and the punts were frequent, the Jackson offense seems to be catching hold, especially the ground game, which had been a disaster under previous coaching regimes.

A quick perusal of the stats reveals the Browns have racked up 597 yards infantry style this season. That’s nearly 150 yards a game. Extrapolate that out to 16 games and the Browns could wind up with nearly 2,400 yards this season, which would be the highest total since 1978.

A large dose of the credit for that revival goes to the offensive line, which was maligned here earlier this season. But credit given for credit due is in order here and the stats prove it.

The grunts along the front line on offense have helped produce games of 120, 145, 169 and Sunday’s 163 yards in the Washington loss. Yes, all those games wound up as losses, but at least that aspect of the game took valuable time off the clock and, as mentioned previously, kept the defense relatively fresh.

From Joe Thomas at left tackle to Austin Pasztor at right tackle, this line is excellent at blocking for its running backs. Whether it’s a dive play, quick opener, trap play or draw play, everything seems to be working. Left guard Joel Bitonio delivered several devastating trap blocks in the Washington game.

Even screen plays, which were run so poorly before Jackson arrived they were almost totally ignored, have proved mildly successful this season. Mildly successful counts as distinct improvement.

Now factor in the running of Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr. and one can see the seeds beginning to sprout. Crowell, in particular, has been a monster with a football in his grasp. 

He has logged 386 yards, at least half of which have come after his numerous tackle-busting runs. His YAC (yards after catch) standing might be among the best in the National Football League.

Trying to take him down in an open field is getting more difficult by the game. He has been an ankle-tackle away from taking the ball all the way, like he did in the loss to Baltimore, on several occasions. He is getting to the hole quicker and finding a different gear once he hits that hole.

At the same time, the success of the running game has opened up the play-action passing game and quarterback Cody Kessler is taking advantage of it. He has thrown 73 passes since taking over and completed 49 for 467 yards and a touchdown with just one pick in the late stages of Sunday’s loss.

Working with a very young and relatively inexperienced receivers corps, Kessler completes 67% of his passes and seems to be catching on to the nuances of escaping the pocket when in trouble. He was sacked just once against Washington.

It is still going to take some time for the offense to become the unit Jackson expects and there probably will be some burps along the way. But based on what we have seen thus far, those days are not too far off.

Now comes late word that Austin Reiter, the free agent pickup who started at center against the Redskins and played very well, is out for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee. (Cue the jinx sounder.)

That injury, suffered on the penultimate Cleveland drive, means John Greco, who moved back to his normal position at right guard, now shifts back to center and either Alvin Bailey or rookie Shane Drango moves in at right guard.
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Staying with the rookie quarterback, Kessler accomplished something rarely, if ever, seen from a quarterback so young and inexperienced to the ways of the NFL. He was 28-of-40 against the Redskins and 11 of those attempts were on third down. He completed all 11, producing eight first downs.

The third-down conversion receivers were Terrelle Pryor, who caught three in the first half, Crowell and tight end Gary Barnidge, who caught two each and rookie wideout Ricardo Louis, who grabbed one. Another example of keeping the chains moving and the defense fresh on the bench.

Kessler came into the NFL with a reputation of being highly accurate and seems to be off to a good start. His biggest drawback is his inability to stretch the field. His arm is slightly above average.

As long as Jackson does not ask the kid to play outside his limitations, there is no reason to believe the Cleveland offense will not embarrass itself until either Josh McCown or Robert Griffin III heal quicker than expected and return. Right now, it seems to be in good hands.
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I was expecting Jackson to utilize Pryor more in the backfield Sunday as he did the week before in Miami. The former Ohio State star took only two snaps in the wildcat. Maybe it’s because Jackson thought the Redskins would be ready for it and decided to shelve the move.

The plays did not work, but neither involved Pryor putting the ball up as he did against the Dolphins. The coach quickly ran away from the notion of making Pryor a slash-type player. Hopefully, that will return this Sunday against New England.
*       *       * 
Washington cornerback Josh Norman, who “went to a dark place” to successfully take Pryor out of the Cleveland offense in the second half after being schooled by the Cleveland receiver in the first half, was flagged for an unusual penalty.

After smartly undercutting a Pryor slant route and picking off Kessler with 6:28 left in regulation and just a four-point lead (24-20), the All-Pro pantomimed a bow-and-arrow celebration, drawing an imaginary arrow from an imaginary quiver and shooting it into the air.

Yellow laundry immediately hit the field. After conferring with the officials who threw the flag, referee Jeff Triplette intoned, “Unsportsmanlike conduct, No. 24 (Norman’s number), shooting a bow and arrow.”

Really? Since when did that one become a part of the NFL’s rules book? I can understand the throat slashing with the thumb, but a bow and arrow draws laundry? C’mon.

It is no different than what major league relief pitcher Fernando Rodney has been doing his entire 14-season career with seven different teams. Once one of baseball best closers, Rodney always does his bow-and-arrow thing whenever he completes a game and picks up a save. He has done it 261 times in that career. And he has yet to be fined or suspended by Major League Baseball.
*       *       * 
Rookie outside linebacker Emmanuel Ogbah and cornerback Jamar Taylor are looking more comfortable as the schedule unfolds. It’s no coincidence Ogbah is getting closer and closer to opposing quarterbacks.

Taylor, who spent three unhappy and non-productive years in Miami before coming to the Browns as a throw-in on an offseason trade, has two of the club’s five interceptions. That’s two more than he had with the Dolphins. His pick Sunday against Washington set up the Browns’ second touchdown.
*       *       * 
And finally . . . Cam Johnson, who signed with the Browns Saturday after fellow outside linebacker Nate Orchard hit season-ending injured reserve, made a terrific debut, logging 2½ of the club’s three sacks of Kirk Cousins. He and Ogbah, both 6-4 and in the 270-pound range, are more in the mold of defensive ends, giving defensive coordinator Ray Horton some interesting options. . . . Taylor, Ogbah and Christian Kirksey led the club in total tackles Sunday with seven each. . . . The defense yielded only 301 yards and limited the Redskins to 56 plays. After taking 11 minutes and 34 seconds off the clock with their first two scoring drives (totaling 20 plays), the Redskins burned only 19 minutes and 29 seconds the rest of the way, due mainly to three Cleveland turnovers, two of which produced points. . . . After watching him kick Sunday, there is nothing wrong with Cody Parkey that a week of practice didn’t cure. He was dead perfect on field goals on 45 and 51 yards with room to spare on each after missing half of his six attempts against Miami. . . . Barnidge is starting to come on with seven catches Sunday for 57 yards. . . . Punter Britton Colquitt was in the game for only five plays: four holds on Parkey placements and just one punt. . . . Washington receiver DeSean Jackson drew 71 yards in penalties on two pass interference calls against the Browns, who totaled 101 overall. . . . Duke Johnson Jr. touches watch: 15 touches for 84 yards and one questionable fumble.


  1. Not sure the penalty on Norman was weird,and it was not unusual. It was at the least taunting,and that is considered unsportsmanlike conduct(hey compared to Pryor 2 weeks back this made a lot of sense). Yet, I think it was mostly the bow and arrow thing, by a Redskins player. the country and the NFL have a bit of a problem with the name as it is,(some refuse to even speak it or write it). I would say it was in extremely bad taste(even if it was copying Bolt). Thus since the league would like a name change anyway, they are attempting to nip what could be construed as an offensive display in conjunction with the name, before it gets common.

    1. With all due respect, it's stupid. Way too PC. Why doesn't baseball make Rodney stop? Because that would MLB look stupid.

      Tnx for checking in VIII.

  2. Brett Keisel was hit with the same penalty a few years ago in a close game between the Steelers and the bungles. At the time the explanation was he went to the ground on one knee to shoot the arrow. It was also mentioned that he simulated using a weapon... I guess it`s OK with the NFL to beat women or advocate violence against cops, but don`t simulate archery!

  3. The NFL is getting way too PC and that is not OK. Next I wanna see someone reach for an imaginary gun from an imaginary holster, pull it out and fire it, then place it back in the holster. Let's see if that one is in the rules book. Time to push that envelope.